To get the scoop on the UMass football team, and expectations for the season, we chatted with Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
1. Last year was a brutal season for the Minutemen, but UMass fans have to be hopeful with the rehire of Mark Whipple. What changes have you noticed in the program since he has taken over?
Matt Vautour: I think everything seems a lot more organized. Every thing seems to be part of a larger plan. The players, who often seemed beaten down emotionally by Charley Molnar's Napoleonic tyranny seem to be revitalized, both in their confidence and their desire to play football. Granted every team in America is excited and optimistic in the preseason. It'll be interesting to see how that all holds up if they struggle out of the gate.
2. Lots of talk about the UMass offense has revolved around the transfer QB Blake Frohnapfel. What are the strengths and weaknesses you have noticed so far in his game?
MV: Practices ave been mostly closed, so my first hand knowledge is limited. But he seems to bring a lot of poise and leadership to an offense that's been begging for it. For a tall quarterback, he moves well when forced out of the pocket. I don't imagine they'll be many designed runs for him, but he can gain some yards if the pocket breaks down.
3. Sorry, but BC fans may not be aware of UMass skill players on either side of the ball. Who are some of the players we should be aware of?
MV: Almost the entire offense is new as several newcomers have beaten out returning starters. Junior college transfer Jalen Williams and Penn State fifth-year transfer Alex Kenney are both additions at wide receiver that look like potential impact guys alongside returning starter Tajae Sharpe. Jamal Wilson looks like the starter at running back, but there's potentially a lot of players in the mix for carries.
On defense, the linebackers look like the strength of the unit led by senior Stanley Andre and Kassan Messiah. Junior defensive back Trey Dudley-Giles, might be the best athlete on the roster and could play safety or corner from week to week depending on matchups.
4. How are UMass fans feeling about this game? What is the expectations out of the fanbase going into the 2014 season?
MV: I think the range of expectations are pretty wide. There are some people who won't believe the team won't be terrible until they see hard evidence, while there are other people who believe that with a couple breaks, this team could finish 6-6. I think a couple more wins, a more watchable offense and the potential of continued improvement would make a lot of people pretty happy.
5. Already prediction time. Can UMass shock the Eagles?
MV: While there a many good reasons I don't bet, if I was betting straight up and down, I'd pick BC to win. Can UMass pull off an upset? Yes. I don't think this is one of those upsets that requires biblical weather, BC suffering from a team-wide flu epidemic and absurd luck.
If UMass wins, I'd guess the formula would look something like:
BC isn't quite sure what to expect from UMass early in the game with no directly useful scouting video available. The Minutemen are able to move the ball and get an early lead, putting pressure on BC's new skill players, who struggle to execute under the fear they could lose the game. In the second half, UMass benefits from an Eagle turnover or two to hold on.
Now I'm not saying that's going to happen, but it's not ridiculous either.
Thanks for sharing with us Matt. Please be sure to follow Matt if you want more information on the UMass Minutemen.